Giant Triplets is the collaborative enterprise of Rosie Lee Wilson and Maeve O’Brien, who met in the screenprint workshop at LCC. They facilitate screen printing events and workshops, travelling to festivals and sites all over the country, with sustainability at the heart of their practice.
Rosie Lee Wilson, BA Illustration and Visual Media – Artist, designer and arts facilitator
Maeve O’Brien, BA Design Management and Cultures – Arts & Textiles Worker
1.Tell us about yourselves. Have you always made art?
R: I believe everyone starts off as an artist, I was lucky enough to have parents that fostered that and empowered me to see creative endeavours as a valid path. With young people it’s really more of a question of when and why did you stop?
M: I tend to shy away from defining myself as an artist. There’s a vulnerability about it which I’m not great at embracing, and I think goes some way to answer Rosie’s question above. Part of me thinks it’s been beneficial to avoid that definition, in that it allows for more flexibility in the work I do with community groups. I can be a print maker, set builder, slime lord, support worker – all depending on the needs and desires specific to the community I am collaborating with at the time.
2. How did you get started in screen printing?
M: Fortuitously, I really didn’t enjoy the course I was on and it’s base camp was literally right next to the screen printing studios. So, I played truant in there pretty regularly, experimenting. My mental health was completely shot a lot of the time and found the process of screen printing cathartic in that it can be physically demanding, requiring focus, precision. You need to be present when you’re printing (given there’s a multitude of points where it can mess up) and that, in conjunction with the innate novelty of stencil making, just clicked for both Rosie and myself, I think.
On festival sites it literally feels like we’re magical print witches; every time we do a collaborative print with people, everyone – including us still, 1000’s of prints later – is like, “What is this sorcery?!” And there’s cheering and clapping and jumping up and down with excitement.
3. Who are your biggest influences?
R: It’s interesting that this question takes me firstly to people like, Sister Corita Kent, Joe Tilson, Robert Rauscenberg, Kitaj, Ray Johnson but this also speaks to this idea of the expert or fine art absolutism. Maeve pointed out that really our biggest influences are our peers, contemporaries and extended families. I had an alternative upbringing, my parents travelled with the peace convoy and my father was in an anarcho punk band on Crass records. I think there are some very obvious parallels with what I do ideologically and aesthetically to that radical peace punk scene which is a direct consequence of that counter culture upbringing. To me it’s more of a philosophy than a product.
M: For me there isn’t any individual that I could say is my biggest influence. I never had any formal arts training, and so feel outside of that world a lot of the time. Rosie and I connected on an ideological level first, and an aesthetic compatibility second.
We’re both stans of counterculture ephemera from the 1960’s – 1980’s, and a lot of our references are drawn trawling through physical archives like Mayday Rooms or on instagram, accounts like @radical_archive and @patientcreatures.
There’s a Novara Media podcast called #ACFM and the episode, ‘Collective Joy’, touches on the countercultural and free festival movement a bit, and has definitely served as an enduring inspiration for both of us. See Red Women’s Workshop was a big part of our conversations when we started going with Giant Triplets, as well as Atelier Populaire. Cheddar Car Boot Sale is like church for Giant Triplets.
I’m currently reading Michael Thompson’s Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value and can see parallels with Giant Triplets’ philosophy. We use print and design as a way to extend the life-cycles of what are often landfill destined items of clothing, and the direct hands on experience creates a lasting memory which translates something initially deemed rubbish into something of value. Having done this for a few years now it’s been so amazing to see people returning with the same t-shirt we printed with them two, three years ago to continue adding to it.
Ultimately, though, it is our peers which are the biggest driving force for us, who are usually operating in resistance to structural inequalities and are striving for positive change via their practice. It’s those everyday conversations with them that inspire us to keep moving forward with our own.
4. Where do you make work now that you’ve graduated? (and how did you get started with Giant Triplets)
M: We met in the screen printing studios, Flo and Josie – who were print technicians while we were there – arranged a print marriage of sorts which we consummated by drinking slushies and dancing to cheesy pop music at London Palace Superbowl in the top level of Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre.
R: We worked with the sustainability team from Glastonbury festival on a campaign in which people swapped an environmental pledge for a T-Shirt printed on pre-loved items. Glastonbury really sets a precedent to other festivals so after this initial project lots of others followed suit and we have now worked with some of the biggest festivals and charities.
Our initial pitches were totally fabricated, we had the shell and the idea and just took photos of screens and squeegees in the back of a van, using our design-school knowledge to create professional looking PDFs. I had been working on festivals for some years so had an idea of the jargon, budget questions and plot requirements we would need for approval, it was truly fake it ‘til you make it.
M: Since then we’ve really tried to use screen printing as a way of creating a dialogue around sustainability and fast fashion, and try to get people to connect the dots between textile production, climate crisis and migrant justice.
R: We print anywhere and everywhere; Maeve is in the midst of setting up a community print studio in a South East London Adventure Playground and my studio (Giant Triplets festival season HQ) is in an intentional community outside of Bristol, where I live, which I make available to whoever wishes to access it.
We resist the tendency to isolate practice within institutions and expensive studios. Our practice is about skilling up, empowering people to print and igniting conversations which we hope could contribute to positive change.
We really believe that print should be a DIY and democratic pursuit. The collective is stronger than its separate parts through sharing space, resources and tools. Doing things on a shoestring to a tight deadline in between festivals has resulted in so many happy accidents.
M: The generosity we’ve been extended in asking for help has been humbling. I mean, for example, the exposure unit dying 24 hours before a job seems like hell on earth at the time, but in hindsight it would have meant we didn’t meet the old print heads in Cheddar, or Kevin at DIY Space for London, or Jonny Akers in Bristol and listened to their stories which kind of plug us in to a grassroots history, craft, community that continues to thrive in print.
5. Looking back on your time at LCC, what advice would you give to yourself, if you could travel back in time?
R: Don’t take the facilities for granted, it is a long and expensive journey to be in a position where you can print and make books again. For me personally, don’t try and finalise work on the computer alone, always try and bring things back into the physical. If you believe in something don’t be moved from it, intern, pick up work outside of university and make connections
M: It can be quite difficult to keep your voice central when you are trying to take on board the advice of tonnes of other people and sometimes you can lose yourself in that. So, I would say to trust your gut – it’s inevitably correct.
6. Where can we see more of your work?